“…everybody thinks I’m this heavy rock singer and there’s more to me than that, I’m a singer, not particularly a heavy metal singer I’m a singer and I like to do other stuff but this has taught me a lot being in this band…”
From Release: The James Dean of Heavy Metal is set to grace our shores in June 2019, nonetheless with ALCATRAZZ in tow! Renowned for his suave stage presence heading up the likes of RAINBOW, ALCATRAZZ, MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP, IMPELLITTERI and his solo band GRAHAM BONNET BAND – not to mention his powerful, distinct and iconic vocal sound, that goes straight to 11 then swiftly into smooth melody in a heartbeat – GRAHAM BONNET delivers a solid stage trip through his career, that will not disappoint the discerning fan.
Taking a break from rehearsals Graham Skyped in to talk to us about the upcoming Australian tour, making music, performing, his decades in music, and more…
You’re heading back to Australia, tell us what does a Graham Bonnet show circa 2019 look like?
Well for Australia we’re doing all the oldies but goodies of course and along with some new stuff that we’ve done with our new band we’re in fact now called Alcatrazz we’ve gone back to being Alcatrazz as to being The Graham Bonnet band because there’s me and the keyboard player from Alcatrazz the original members of that band we’re together now and we have a different line-up from the original Alcatrazz but this is gonna be good. I’ve got Joe Stump playing guitar now and he’s the best he’s incredible and in fact realising today as I speak that I should be there rehearsing with them but I’m talking to you instead. So we’ve got Mark Benquechea on drums, Jimmy Waldo on keyboards and Beth-Ami Heavenstone playing bass, and Joe Stump on guitar and me singing, so it’s Alctrazz but the new one, 2019 and it sounds like we have certain songs we’re doing, Alcatrazz songs and they sound really good now that we have Joe Stump playing guitar for us.
You’ll be playing ‘Down To Earth’ in full, now forty years since its release, what do you remember most fondly about joining Rainbow and releasing that album?
*laughs* Not a lot, it was quite a challenge for me because I didn’t think I was the right guy for the band in the first place and when I went over to start recording with them I was going “no, this is not for me” and following up Ronnie Dio and I don’t sing like this guy anyway and I was expecting them to want somebody who sang like that and I just don’t, I’m a completely different singer to him and when we started recording we recorded every song in four different formats, so we did like a verse and a chorus of every song that’s on that album and play it to Ritchie Blackmore and say which one do you like best and then we go ahead with that. It was a long process and very tiring but in the end very rewarding because I learned how to phrase that kind of music which I wasn’t used to, this sort of semi classical sounds in every track, very sort of inventive I guess, I wasn’t used to things being that melodic band wise, the stuff I played before I knew where everyone was going like R&B stuff with Rainbow they had these elaborate arrangements and I didn’t really know where the verse was and where the chorus was or where the middle 8 was, and Roger Glover helped me out a lot on that because he’d been with Deep Purple for a long time and he also played bass with Rainbow as you know. It was a learning experience but in the end very rewarding and I’m glad I did it.
Was there ever a time you thought there’s no way I can follow Dio?
No, I didn’t want to join the band because I was nothing like him. I think the reason of me being in this band I think they’d auditioned approximately eighty singers and I was the last one I was eighty one or whatever and they gave me a song to learn called ‘Mistreated’ and that was my audition piece and I sang it four times in one day, first time off the microphone just in case I messed up, they could hear me and they’re a very loud band and they were surprised how loud my voice was I guess, we were in a very sort of echoy room and it helped to hear my voice acoustically so to speak and so after singing it without a microphone, they said try it on a microphone now so we did and played it four times and they were all smiling and I thought are they taking the piss out of me or is this something they enjoyed? They did enjoy it and they said the job is yours and I wasn’t sure about it even then, so I went back to London said to my manager I don’t think I’m the right guy for this band I don’t have the hair and don’t look like them for the start I’m a completely different person and I was used to doing different kinds of songs. He said you better do it because it’ll be worthwhile and in the end it was, I got to enjoy music that I’d never played before, never sang before, or never listened to before, that’s why when I did hear the Rainbow albums and to follow Ronnie Dio when I heard that stuff thought this isn’t me at all, it was very alien to me but anyway it paid off in the end.
Did it then help to shape you for what you became after that?
Yeah but now everybody thinks I’m this heavy rock singer and there’s more to me than that, I’m a singer, not particularly a heavy metal singer I’m a singer and I like to do other stuff but this has taught me a lot being in this band with Roger Glover helped me a lot as I said with praising this kind of music and I don’t think about it anymore as it’s part of my life and part of my vocabulary vocally. It’s been a learning process and thank god for that and I’m really grateful to Ritchie Blackmore for giving me a job.
After so long what do you still enjoy about being up on stage?
I think seeing if there’s an audience *laughs* these days it’s very hard to get an audience to this kind of music but in some countries it’s fantastic. I enjoy it when I can see the people in the first few rows smiling and they’re digging what I’m doing and singing the words along with me I think to myself sometimes that’s my song, those are my words, they actually know the words to these songs it’s very rewarding to see an audience that can sing along karaoke.
You’re also still making music and released the newest Graham Bonnet Band album, in recording is there one technique you’ve always kept and used across your many albums you’ve made?
One thing I like my vocal to be dry when we’re recording, I don’t like reverb on stuff unless it’s probably like a ballad or something but I’ve always had that thing where I like to hear it dry, the real voice, not the fake echo and repeat echo like the canyon stuff, that’s something I always sort of stuck with with all the albums I’ve made and all the singles I made except for the first one which was The Marbles ‘Only One Woman’ in 1968, they were very fond of turning up the echo wheel. The producer would come into the studio and say I think we need more echo on that and after he left we’d take the echo down because he would flood the echo and it was just too much, I don’t like that because it loses a lot vocally I think for me I like to hear the vocal up close and in your face so I’m in the room with you. That’s one thing I’ve always done and everything sing is with a hell of a lot of volume and sometimes sweet and sour. I like to use different voices in so called Heavy Metal because most Heavy Metal singers are singing in falsetto, I don’t do that much, I do it once in a while but I don’t know, it’s a little corny now I think in 2019 it’s been done, I’ve done that but I think with this new album were doing now that we’re recording and with the Graham Bonnet albums we put out I think it’s a modern sound and not too dated.
How if in any way has your approach to song writing changed over the years?
Well when I started song writing was really with Michael Schenker because he really didn’t know how to write so I’m saying to him well what do I do in this song? What do you want me to do? Are you gonna make up the words and the melody? And he said “No you’ve got to do it…” oh crap… *laughs* so he put me on the spot and I sort of started thinking what key is this song in and blah blah blah so I started writing with him and had to basically find subjects to write about, I write and I still do like to write about what’s going on in the world, real life, not dungeons and dragons, heavy stuff, serious stuff, the way we live as humans is not that good sometimes and I look around the world and it is scary and I like to have a bit of fun with the sings too, a little bit of sarcasm or whatever. I like writing words because people have said to me the words I write because it’s not like any other rock singer is a little different and that’s what I’m going for.
Now you’ve been in the business for a while, and it can be easy to say what’s changed in that time but what for you is the one thing that’s stayed the same in your time making music?
Well I think what’s happening now with new bands they’re basically playing what Led Zeppelin did, or Rainbow did a million years ago or whatever you like, to me I’ve heard nothing that catches my ear and is something new, I think people are sticking very safe with music and that’s not me, I like to sort of take a left turn when you’re supposed to go straight ahead. To be honest I haven’t heard anything I think since Queen, when I heard Queen on the radio when they first came out I was like “what the hell is that?” and I can’t say that I’ve heard that yet, it’s all rap and whatever and that’s not music to me, rap is not music it’s some guy talking with a beat, hip hop same thing. Wasn’t it like that the first time you heard Queen? You went what the hell? With all those harmonies and things it was so damn perfect, when I first heard it I thought it was a Beatles song and found out it was a a band called Queen and I thought Jesus Christ these guys are really, really good and they were different. The guitar player is very recognisable when you hear him, Freddie’s voice is very recognisable, and those harmonies just take you away to somewhere else, I love the band. I’ve heard nothing else since that’s caught my ear and I thought was amazing, I wish I could say there was something was happening now that I was attracted to or whatever.
Over the five decades you’ve been making music, what for you has been the most defining moment you’ve witnessed in music over that time?
Oh geez… I think Queen *laughs* I would say Queen and probably our second Acatrazz album and I can’t think of an answer to that. I mean I got involved with Disco with ‘Warm Ride’ when Saturday Night Fever came out, the song was supposed to be in the movie but never got in there and it was something I didn’t really savour that much because I thought how can I do disco it’s so pretentious because there’s nothing and doesn’t fit with me at all but I was very surprised it turned out the way it did.
Lastly let’s look ahead to the future, finish this sentence for me, by the end of 2019 Graham Bonnet wants to…
Make an album *laughs* that is a diverse kind of album with every kind of music you can think of, I don’t want to be stuck in a drawer which I am kind of now singing heavy metal so to speak. I’d like to do an album with a lot of variety and a lot of different styles. Not rap I won’t do that… that’s my to do, is get away from people looking at me as this guy that just sings this way, I have different voices which I haven’t used for years and that’s what I’d like to do.
Graham Bonnet and Alcatrazz TOUR DATES:
THURS 6 JUNE – ADELAIDE – ENIGMA
FRI 7 JUNE – MELBOURNE – THE CORNER
SAT 8 JUNE – SYDNEY – MANNING
TICKETS & INFO: www.hardlinemedia.net
Band Members: Graham Bonnet – Vocals, Joe Stump – guitar, Mark Benquechea – drums, Jimmy Waldo – keyboards, Beth-Ami Heavenstone – bass